The traditional NVQ portfolio system for student veterinary nurses could be phased out from next summer, under draft proposals from the RCVS Awarding Body, which has responsibility for the delivery of VN qualifications.

Proposals include an initial year of full-time college study, during which the student does not need to be employed in a Training Practice (TP), the introduction of compulsory farm animal work experience, the phasing out of the separate Equine Veterinary Nursing qualification and a reduction in practice-based assessment.

The catalyst for reviewing the VN qualification came from Ofqual’s plans to introduce the new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) from summer next year, which effectively scraps the NVQ in its current form. This gave the RCVS Awarding Body an excellent opportunity to reconsider work-based training for VNs in order to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.

The Awarding Body’s proposals, on which comments are invited, aim to reduce bureaucracy for those involved with VN training, increase the number of practices able to take part and improve accessibility of training, ultimately increasing the number of qualified VNs available to the profession.

Under the new proposals, VN work-based training would be a two-year, 70-credit Level 3 qualification, equivalent to 700 hours’ learning. The first year of this qualification could be delivered either as a full-time college course, or as a part-time day-release over two years (extending the complete training to three years). The first year would incorporate 25 days’ work placement, including small animal, equine and farm animal environments – the first time a compulsory farm animal component has been introduced. This first year of the course could be directly accessed by school leavers, as there is no requirement for them to be employed in a practice.

Students would be employed in a Training Practice for the second ‘clinical’ year (or third year for part-time students). An online log of practical experience, similar to the Professional Development Phase for new veterinary graduates, would replace the current portfolio, with a more comprehensive end-of-year practical exam. There would no longer be a requirement for practice-based assessors, although students would still need to be supported by an experienced clinical mentor, a role many current assessors may assume.

The economic feasibility of Equine Veterinary Nurse (EVN) training was also considered, with the conclusion that a broader-based primary qualification, with all students carrying out work experience in a range of practice types, was more sustainable.

The number of training practices has long been recognised as a limiting factor in the UK’s capacity to train VNs. In addition to standard TPs, proposals have therefore been made for Auxiliary TPs (ATPs). ATPs would be able to employ and train VN students even if they do not have the facilities to provide all of the work experience required: a formal agreement to allow students to fill the gaps at another practice would be in place.

Finally, the proposals include a beefed up range of post-registration education options, allowing Registered Veterinary Nurses to develop, and be recognised, in their own areas of interest. This would help to create a career ladder for RVNs and assist in their retention within the profession.

“The proposals have been developed following a period of consultation with those involved with the delivery of VN training, and with employers,” says Jacqui Molyneux, RCVS Council Member and Chairman of the VN Awarding Body.

“Feedback suggests that the current syllabus and training provides competent nurses who are highly regarded within the profession, but that training is overly burdensome for the practices involved. This, coupled with a recognised shortage of both Training Practices and qualified VNs, meant it was appropriate to think more creatively about how the qualification could be delivered. We hope that the draft proposals will be welcomed by both the veterinary nursing and veterinary professions, and would urge people involved to let us know what they think.”

The proposals are available to download (www.rcvs.org.uk/latestnews) – please email your comments to Miss Jane Dawson, Project Consultant (jkhdawson@aol.com), by 31 October 2009. It is appreciated that this is a short deadline, however, the time-frame of the QCF is driving development, as is the need to allow colleges and training providers the maximum possible time to develop the new training structure for 2010/11 delivery.

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